Stars above us © by Huy Ho

I. Stars above us

He was branded – the flimsy piece of pink fabric that hung loosely upon his tattered uniform hurt more than the series of numbers and letters gouged unto his forearm. His uniform clung to parts of his skinny frame like leeches, mute in colors like the mud and slush which bled from the ground with every heavy step he took. He felt so utterly alone, even though he was surrounded by masses of people, pushing and shoving their way across the sodden field towards the barracks. The boy moved without sight, his legs and arms in automatic motion while his empty eyes were fixed on empty space. All he could see were the softest brown eyes, which he forever wished to hold in memory; the gentle touches upon his spine; the secret whispers of love; the never-enough tender kisses.

Someone beside the boy fell, quickly trampled by the horde, its face jammed further into the slush with each pair of feet. Its arms began to flail as mud sucked the face in further, clogging up the airways, as the boy was suddenly pulled to the ground by the grasping, groping hands. The slush and filth momentarily suffocated the boy's already labored breaths. Falling with a cry, not of pain but of sorrow, the boy closed his eyes as tears slipped through his mud-caked lashes.

The thundering of several hundred feet boomed upon his ears, people trampling over his legs, arms, and back but the boy was already numb with shock. He only felt the soft feeling of warm ghostly hands traveling down his back, hands that were only of his imagination. As he lay there, sinking slowly into the bed of mud, the sky was thickened by flumes of dark, black smoke and dark shades of red dancing across the midnight sky. Sebastian closed his eye…and remembered…

"What was that?"

"A kiss…"

"Boys don't kiss boys, Jacob!"

"You don't mind do you, Sebastian?"

II.

Sebastian was hauled onto his feet and shoved forward, almost falling again but instead bumped into the person in front, who shoved him back with a punch to his abdomen. With his eyes clenched shut and his stomach reeling with pain, the boy staggered on, he refused to fall or stumble, dragging his bruised and bleeding legs onward; it was only a few more feet of limping and he would be able to lie down. The churning of his stomach, deprived of food and laden with jolts of pain with every step he took, made the walk unbearable. But he could see the barracks now, just a few more steps. Suddenly everyone halted and a low, guttural voice sounded out: "Break apart! Form fives! Quickly now!"

There was a chaotic flurry of scrambling and pushing; the mass of people quickly became hundreds of small lines in the small space. Sebastian was far too slow to react, standing dumbly still, the only one not in line. Before anyone could notice, however, a hand reached out and grabbed Sebastian on the shoulders. Sebastian looked but did not recognize the face; all he could see was a pink triangle that hung limply on the stranger's chest, identical to his own.

"Step lively, pal! Wouldn't want to be gone 'for nothing was started," the stranger said as he appraised Sebastian with pale green eyes. Several questions were on the verge of Sebastian's lips, who are you?; do I know you?; why are you doing this?, but before he could speak, the same deep, guttural voice from before began to read off series of numbers and letters. The brown-eyed boy stopped, lifted up his left arm and there, etched onto his forearm, a bloody mess of skin and flesh, was the serial: A-13853.

The tedious process of reading the numbers one by one took what seemed like hours, standing on sinking ground and exhausted, Sebastian occasionally feel asleep still standing, but a nudge from his stranger always kept him awake. The numbers were read and the lines dispersed and Sebastian, including his stranger, walked off to their barracks, which, much to Sebastian's pleasure, was the same as his.

"You might want to pay more attention pal; they don't treat slackers off well here," said the stranger, as he settled into the bunk next to Sebastian's. "Name's Alexander. Friends call me Alex, you can call me Alex," said the other boy, hefting out his hand towards Sebastian.

"Sebastian. Friends call me Bastian. You can call me Bastian," Sebastian mimicked with a weak smile and was reciprocated with a wide grin from Alex. Their hands met, the first warm feeling Sebastian felt in a long time. "Cheery pal aren't you? I don't see why you can be so happy, such a grim place this is…"

"Aye, it's better than moping. I haven't seen a smiling person die yet. Besides, where's frowning going to get me - better off like them, pal?" Alex cocked his head to the side, mentioning to the other people in the dingy barrack. The more Sebastian looked, the more he realized that Alex was the only one who was partially alive.

The other people - more like bodies - were just empty shells, whom were, of course, frowning and looking ready to die. "Yah see pal, forgetting where I am, helps me think of where I want to be. And where I want to be, makes me smile. By giving in, I'll just rot away like them." Sebastian now looked closer at Alex; though as skinny as the boy was, he was lithe with brown hair kept as well as a rake with the hands could do. And a looker, too.

Sebastian blushed; the small action not going unnoticed by Alex, who smiled fondly back as ever.

"You might as well as get some sleep. Sleep doesn't come too easy here…" Alex smiled at Sebastian. "Sweet dreams, Bastian." With this said, Alex quickly lay down on his side, facing away from Sebastian. The brown eyed boy looked at his new friend, amazement in his eyes. How anyone can be as cheery as this fellow is beyond me, he thought.

Sebastian quickly settled down into his own bed as well, as the bunk house soon fell to silence, only the occasional shouting and the ever steady rumble of the distant crematory was heard throughout the night. The boy was tired but could not sleep - Alex was right, sleep didn't come easy. Sebastian entertained this ever unsteady feeling of needful alertness and vigilance. He stared blankly up towards the ceiling, trying to picture his lost lover. Trying to remember the heat of his hands upon his body, the kisses he left on Sebastian's shoulders, even the way he would whisper - no, perhaps, shudder, Sebastian's name when…well when…Sebastian decided to leave the subject and get some sleep, tomorrow was going to be a long day.

"Pal?" Someone was shaking his shoulders. Sebastian tiredly turned over, and slapped the hand away. "Pal! Wake up! We got to go!" Sebastian allowed himself to open his eyes to slits, and saw the wavy outline of a tousled brown headed boy with a hint of green to his eyes. Alex.

"Hey…what's the matter, huh?"

"Nothing's the matter, you got to get up is all. Hurry now!" Sebastian slowly sat up and saw that the barracks were almost empty, only a few people left, himself and Alex included.

"Where are the other people, huh?"

"Off! Where we should be, too! In the line up! Get off your lazy arse and get to it!"

"Alright, alright, yea don't have to be such a poof about it!" They both laughed as Sebastian got off the bed and stood next to Alex. "Where to?"

"Outside to be counted and then we're off to the factories. Our barrack counts nuts and bolts. It's an easy job, that one. Shouldn't have much troubles, just stick with me and you'll be just dandy." The two made for the outside and stood in the small line of men and boys, all bearing pink triangles. There was an SS soldier, who slowly made his way down the line counting each person that stood before him.

Every now and then he would stop and look at one in the face, usually a young boy, and smile nastily before reaching down and giving the unfortunate boy a harsh grab on his privates; and as usual would have it, the boy would cry out and topple over in pain. Once on the ground the solider would spit on his face and kick him in the stomach, moving on to the next person mumbling about 'shitty queers' and 'bum fuckers.' The counting was done in one try, a feat to the experienced inmates. The lines slowly dispersed and marched to the factory.

"How long have you been here, huh?"

"About 2 months…seems like forever ago, though." They started walking, rounding corners and in between barracks, until they reached a rectangular factory. They had walked in silence, not much to say. Sebastian took in the horror around him. Some places there would be dry, frail corpses, nothing more than a skeleton wrapped in skin. They were all naked, stripped of everything.

Sebastian shuddered, and huddled a little closer to Alex, subconsciously grabbing his hand. Alex seemed to stiffen and falter his step as the gesture was given, but soon continued his walk, gently, comfortingly squeezing Sebastian's hand in assurance. They had walked into the factory hand in hand, where Alex led Sebastian to a corner. No one had seen them walk in.

"Stay here pal, they'll come by with some nuts and all we have to do is count them. Just don't look at leaders and stay out of their way, they're not the nicest people, you see."

Sebastian nodded in response and waited for the arrival of the leader. He came through the doors, a massive man with dark eyes and a hairy face. His demeanor was menacing, scowling as he clonked his way around the room, dropping off boxes of bolts in front of the inmates. As he came to Sebastian and Alex he slowed and eyed Sebastian…there was something in his eyes…was it hatred? Want? He dropped the box with a thud, and quickly glanced at Alex and smirked.

Sebastian looked from the man to Alex, and for the first time, in the short time he'd known his friend, Alex's face was sullen and sad, bereft of the small glow of happiness it often emanated. Alex's eyes grew dark and solid, jagged pieces of jade despairing in shame? Hate? Sebastian couldn't tell…Alex said nothing the rest of the day, so neither did Sebastian, not wanting to dig anything up that he wasn't meant to know. Night came and sleep was just as easy as the night before, with preludes of chocolate brown eyes and feather soft touches.

It wasn't a question of trust, of longing. It was just simply what it was; the beauty and the ugliness of both boys, loving each other. Shaking fingers skittered across heated, quivering skin like pebbles tossed on hard, cobbled floors. Intensely real and heartbreakingly desperate, all the boys could do was close their eyes and ride whatever waves of pleasure and pain and love and longing might come. The act of making love was just too simple for what had happened, between Sebastian and Jacob.

III.

A month had passed and the same cycle ensued. Alex would be nice and cheery only after and before their work shift. During work, during the time they spent in the presence of the work leader, Alex was shut off and had a look of misery in his eyes. Sebastian wondered…

One morning Alex woke Sebastian up a little earlier than usual.

"Pal! Wake up! Today's a special day, it is! C'mon, wake up!" Sebastian sat up and got out of bed standing in front of Alex.

"What is it?" He mumbled, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"We have Selection today." Selection…the words made Sebastian's heart thump a little faster and hurt just a little more.

"Christ…Selection…What do I need to do?"

"Nothing you can do, just run, run like the devils a' chasing you. Look lively now, pal!" The two of them slowly walked outside and fell into line. A handsome, neatly kept man with a monocle was making his way down the line, inspecting the men, making them run back and forth. Every now and then, he would have a person write something down - that person was the leader of their work unit! He stood there right next to the bespectacled doctor, the same sullen face. As the duo slowly got closer to the two of them, Sebastian's heart once again sped up a little more than it had before. Fear gripped his heart as he wondered if he would meet the same fate as…Sebastian's eyes got teary as he slowly closed his them….and remembered…

"Jacob! Where are you?!" Sebastian ran frantically around the camp entrance, looking for his lover. "Jacob!" He cried out, tears stained his face as he looked anxiously around, scanning the crowd for the familiar face of his desire.

Sebastian was out of breath and bent down to breathe deeper as something caught his eyes: a pair of worn-leather shoes. He'd know that pair anywhere, as he had bought them for Jacob for his birthday, only a few days ago from a second-hand shop in town. Sebastian started to run towards the pair of shoes and, sure enough, those shoes belonged to his Jacob. The boy was slumped on the ground and Sebastian barely recognized him. Sebastian's heart clenched as he saw the state of his lover, he was bloody, his clothes were ripped and torn, a frail thing compared to the lithe frame that Sebastian had once loved to kiss down…

"Jacob!" The brown eyed boy looked up and was met with the same colored eyes reflecting deep emotions of pain and guilt.

"Sebastian…" Jacob rasped…Slumped on the ground, he tried to stand up as Sebastian approached but to no avail…he was sure his legs were broken…

"Oh God…what did they do to you?!" Sebastian cried out as he fell to his knees and embraced his love.

"Nothing I didn't have coming I guess…" Whispered into his ears…so forced…so tired…so deathly gone and far away…

"You can't leave me! Not here!" Sebastian cried as he grabbed Jacob's hands, kissing them frantically…trying to savor and remember what, he knew, his last time with Jacob…

"I'm sorry…Listen…I have to tell you…-" But before Jacob could finish, Sebastian was yanked to his feet by an SS soldier and dragged away.

"What do you think you're doing, you son of a bitch!" The soldier dragged Sebastian away, further and further from his love.

"Jacob!" he cried. He saw that Jacob was trying to fight of the soldiers now crowding around him. "Jacob!" He struggled more and more, keeping his eyes firmly where Jacob sat. He must hear what Jacob wanted to tell him! He was almost free when suddenly a piercing cry of pain shot through the air.

"Ahh! He bit me! The queer bit me!" Sebastian's eyes widen as he saw the nearest solider cock his rifle and aimed it at Jacob's bloody head. Jacob looked up and stared straight into Sebastian's eyes, no longer aware of his attackers, and shouted:

"Sebastian! I love-" The rifle shot was deafening…swallowing everything in a loud, mournful boom.

IV.

Sebastian was tuned back to reality by a shake on his bony shoulders, a shake held by strong, calloused hands. Sebastian's reflection was looped and morphed as he stared into the monocle now in front of him. The menacing glare of the doctor frightened Sebastian; he smelled of raw blood and disease, his voice seemed to be inlayed with shrill cries of pain from the horrible experiments he did on the in mates who failed Selection. There was a silent moment as the doctor looked upon Sebastian, his eyes slowing roaming up and down the boy. He used the end of his pen and poked Sebastian in various places, grunting with either satisfaction or displeasure at the reactions. The doctor eyed Sebastian for what seemed forever and finally yelled, "Run!"

Sebastian did nothing but obeyed. He began to run and run and run as fast as the wind could carry his bony legs and deprived body. He ran, as he'd never run before, the scenery around him blurring into nothingness as if seen through teary eyes. Sebastian dared to look back and noticed that he was being followed! But no…it was only Alex…which must have meant he had passed the test! Sebastian slowly began to slow his running…but as he was able to slow to a walk, the blur of Alex zoomed past him. He saw the boy, his friend, run very fast; never looking back, never faltering his gait. Sebastian looked back and saw another person begin to run and this too, must have meant that Alex had also passed the test. It must.

"Alex! Slow down! You passed!" Sebastian hollered to his still running friend, waving his hands in the air, as if hoping that somehow Alex would see him. Sebastian began to run, catching up with his friend. Sebastian was now close enough to the still running boy and reached out, grabbing his shoulder. Alex slowed down, head downcast, breathing labored and harsh on the ears. Sebastian let his friend slump against him and together they fell to the ground, grasping each other, holding on for dear life.

Alex's head was pressed firmly against Sebastian as Sebastian could hear his breathing. And only then did he notice the airless, chocked sobs. Alex was crying.

Neither of them said anything for the rest of the day, a strangely comforting silence which then ensued. Sebastian had let his friend hold him until they were forced to stand and walk to the factory. And there, for the rest of the day, quiet sniffles could be heard from green-eyed boy.

That evening while the two boys were eating their ration of bread and bowl of lukewarm soup, Sebastian tried to lighten the mood with conversation, first starting off with a question. This question was one he had thought about since he first met the boy, the boy that helped him through this whole ordeal. Sebastian cleared his throat, coughed a little, and sucked in some air, leaning over he said, just slightly above a whisper:

"Did you have anyone special before you came here?"

Silence.

Sebastian coughed again, uneasily, and finished his meal, in silence.

That night as Sebastian lay in his bed, with the stars shining aimlessly in the sky, he couldn't help but think about shady, green eyes; eyes teary and sullen all day since the Selection. Sebastian couldn't think of why the boy, who would smile all day long, would suddenly become sad and oppressed, even after passing Selection. The brown eyed boy was drifting in and out of sleep as a slight whisper was heard from Alex's bunk:

"His name was Nathan." Sebastian was no longer sleepy; he blinked a couple of times and slowly shifted to his side, facing Alex on his left.

"Yeah?" Sebastian whispered, keeping his voice down.

"Yeah." Alex turned and looked at Sebastian, that same familiar glint in his eyes, of happiness and peace.

"It was my first day here at the camp…I still remember my first smell of burnt flesh and hair. The freight car doors were thrown open with a loud crash, rumbling everybody it held. I remembered how I held onto his hand, shaking, he held me close and kissed me on my forehead and said that everything would be okay, but I knew better. Life wasn't so great in good old Britain, so my parents moved out to Poland, on a farm. There I met him, only one year older than me, at the age of nineteen. He lived next door and often joined us for dinner, always quiet and never speaking. He'd use to look at me, only when he thought I wouldn't notice; he used to linger his touch every time he had the chance. It went on like this for almost a year.

"One night after dinner, we were sitting outside and he just bent over and kissed me. A week later the Nazis came. Anyways, in that short time he showed me so many things, made me feel so many things. At the camp, we were lucky enough to not have been separated, but during the Selection he was picked. He walked away without a struggle, looking back only once. He wasn't picked for the crematory but to the infirmaries. A month later, I saw his corpse dumped out of the building. It was then that I decided not to die here…like him."

Alex looked over and saw a peacefully sleeping Sebastian. He sighed, turned over, and went to sleep.

The next morning was like every other morning over the past month or so. An endless, horrid cycle became Sebastian's routine life. In the morning he would wake up to a cheery Alex who would smile and laugh ever so slightly by his side; work was silent and dreary, never a glimpse of a smile, an echo of laughter. Then at night the drone of the not so distant crematories would lull him to a restless sleep.

It was a rainy night, that night; the night when all the secrets of their lives were shared between the two. The night was calm; the fall of pitter patter raindrops smothered the incessant droning of the crematories and flushed out the pungent smell of burnt flesh and hair. It made the decent of settings; the best one could come by in a dreary place such as Sebastian and Alex were given. Of course, the day had gone as usual, the same cycle as always before, but something seemed to have changed in Alex's eyes as they lay down in the beds. Something bright, something hopeful, something that had not been there before, it was much like a shadowed figure coming into light; Sebastian knew something was always there, but didn't know quite what it was. But tonight, he would find out everything, every little, painstaking moment, every moment of regret and torture, told by the raspy, steady voice of Alex.

"You know. There was a Selection right after the day I arrived here. I wasn't as lucky enough as to pass - as I had the other day. To save myself from the perversions of the work leader was to pass Selection. I wasn't worried about my life, because I knew I wouldn't die."

"And why is that pal?" Wouldn't die?

"Sex."

"What now, pal?"

"We people with the pink triangles may have to deal with the toughest shite there is around here. But we will probably always live longer than most of the internees, of course we'll probably die here, but delaying the inevitable is something our kind can do and do it well." His voice was hushed, ushered and pained.

"So…what are you getting at there?"

"The SS around here aren't all heterosexual you know."

"Well…"

"You bloody let them fuck you if you want to live!" Alex screamed out in annoyance. Why was his friend so naïve, so innocent? Such innocence! Sebastian didn't belong here, not in a place like this. He was still so young - they were all so young…Alex softened his features and pulled together his composure, saying in a softer tone:

"Well you know that I didn't pass…and you see me lying here right now…so you can piece together what I had to do…and whom I had to do it to, to live…"

"I'm sorry…"

"For what, pal?"

"For everything you've been through, course."

"Don't feel sorry for me pal, feel sorry for yourself. You haven't seen anything just yet. And you may not be as lucky as to pass Selection every time." Alex's eyes softened and he grew old and wilted, looking at his naïve friend. Nothing yet, pal. Nothing yet.

Sebastian looked at his friend, a tired friend who held many troubled thoughts, known to his body many desperate acts of survival. Poor pal. Sebastian lay on his back looking at the ceiling, being sure to keep his hands above the blanket, as he had learned, when he slept. The nighttime was never a real concept at the camp as the lights were never turned off, for crazy fears of unnecessary precautions against the pink triangles. He was use to it now, and it did not matter what he was subjected to. To live, to die was all the same. But as he thought it over…what was he lamenting about? He was one of the lucky ones, he'd guess. Not much trouble from the SS soldiers…he hadn't been hit, hadn't been assaulted in any way. How strange it was, in a place like this…had Alex been this lucky?

The dimly lit night was shattered with the clomping of hard worn boots. The bang of the rickety hinged door awoke everyone in the barrack, startled. Wide eyes of fear looked on as three SS soldiers armed with rifles, stepped into the room. Their faces were menacing and scowling, hatred and disgust laden their faces as dust on old rotting planks.

"Wake up you, arse holes! Hurry it up! Last one lying gets a broom up his shitty bum!"

A mad rush of wind accompanied by the cacophony of old rusty bed springs, and the beds were deserted; shadows loomed of tired, standing men - and boys.

"You shitty queers have had it easy enough! From now on you will go outside and dig up the snow around the perimeters with your hands! Any one who disagrees can take a bullet up their arse!" With this said, the SS soldier who had been talking the whole time, the one standing in the middle, turned and left, silence reverberated in the barrack. Soon the quiet muffling of sheets being ruffled and bed frames groaning with added weight could be heard, as everyone fell back to sleep.

Sebastian looked over at Alex's profile after the midst of the news, wondering what his friend was thinking. Indeed, Sebastian thought to himself, that he had spoken too soon about being treated lightly here. He sighed and turned back to the ceiling, trying to get back to sleep, the steady low glow of aged yellow light almost burning through his eyelids.

They were awoken again, with such a start, the loud banging of rifle butts echoing on rusty old bed frames. It was a pinkish dawn, scattered with orange zest and red petals, filtering the smoke stained sky of twilight. All of them were pushed outside, bumbling and tripping as sleep still cloaked over their weary bodies. They fell into the familiar lines of file, waiting to be counted as usual, as every morning before. The counting was done and they began to march, the cold bitter wind tearing away at their thinly dressed bodies, so cold, so bitter, almost melting away their abused flesh.

Sebastian tried to stay as close to Alex as possible, keeping up with him, shoulder to shoulder. They reached the gates of the camp where masses of snow lay untouched, glistening in the dull sun - a place of visible purity, such a rare thing it was. They were instructed to shovel the snow away, bare of hands, to a corner of the camp. Some were instructed to carry a large metal beam from one point to another, the scolding cold of the metal caused the skin to stick and it soon began to peel from their hands, leaving a bloody mess of blood and skin.

Sebastian's hands were numb, frostbitten and stiff. Only after an hour of shoveling, did his hands actually become a miniature shovel itself; stiff and hard, frozen bones, rigid into place, glued by the harsh cold of the snow. It was as if his skin had melded under cooling metal, forever stuck, forever shoveling. Alex was near by, his digging rapid and steady, the cold seeming not to bother him, a look of concentration upon the boy. And dear God, his friend was sweating! Was he delirious? The snow and cold getting to his head? Sebastian kept on looking at his friend and Alex looked up, a brief smile, and resumed his work. No, he wasn't delirious. Just dedicated, in a sick twisted way, Sebastian decided; that boy of wonder.

Finally the day was done, their shoveling complete. They had walked out of their barracks this morning with twenty-five men, returning home to lukewarm potato soup, was a mere fifteen count of tired, bloody, delirious men and boys. They had arrived at the snow this morning, greeted by the welcomed site of purest snow only now to leave the site a saturated area of blood and dried, flaking skin; the skeletal bodies of their inmates left rotting in the cold: a scene of carnage.

It was strange to see dead, decaying corpses laying, leisurely, so freely in the streets of the camp - but it was expected; it was a matter of time until Sebastian would expect himself to be one. But as he woke up everyday and looked to his left his hope would be renewed, his longing for the release of death would be just diminished for the day as the color of light green eyes washed over. He did not know what he felt; he did not comprehend what his feelings were, but he wanted to discover what was lost to him, taken away by a bullet to the head.

But could he trust himself, would he have enough faith within his frail body to give it all to his friend? His friend: no more, no less. The thought battered his mind. The confinement of the camp was not only to the proximity, but it was also to himself. The inmates were not allowed any bodily contact, it was forbidden, and it was forsaken. But how could any relationship succeed if not for the intimate reassurances of the touches from his beloved, his friend. These thoughts haunted Sebastian now, as he lay on his bed in his barrack with the light swishing of the light bulb washing pale, urine colored light over his face. Tomorrow's another day, he thought.

The sun rose slowly it seemed, as if rising with trepidation from seeing the horrid scenes its light would befall upon. But it rose, casting the morning golden locks of light in the camp; the shadows it made were creeping and forlorn, all too real. The silence of the camp was reflected in the whispering of the high, bear branches of whatever trees were left in relent.

Like cattle, like routine, they were counted and were marched off to the snow encrusted gates of the perimeter. Breaking up the line, each person spread out and fell to their knees, hands already moving at the rhythmic style of shoveling. The sun did little to warm their freezing bodies, as it never did before, its light was teasing and mocking; a façade of warmth and happiness never tangible to them now. Sebastian did his shoveling with no notice of pain or grief, his hard emotions forming a thick glove upon his skin of determination and the will to live, he dug furiously and precariously, never too fast but not too slow as to earn a rifle butt to the head.

A few feet away, a distance speckled with blood and skin, Alex did the same work with the same demeanor of resilience and determination. His brow furrowed creating a map of concentration on his forehead as trickles of sweat swelled and dribbled down his nose where it drip dropped onto the snow, melting it like miniature bullet holes. Pale green eyes occasionally darting from side to side, gauging the work of his inmates, especially of Sebastian - wherein he smiled to see the boy hard at work - and to see the distance of the SS soldiers stationed to watch over them.

Two hours into the work, with a good four more to go before break, Alex saw a flicker of something flimsy, flailing in the harsh biting wind. At first his crazed, determined mind dismissed it as the skin of some poor inmate peeled off by the coldness of the shifting iron bars, but as he looked closer the flailing material was darker and was made of something tougher than skin. His eyes trained and marked on the spot, he made out frail, bony fingers behind the flickering thing, and realized with astonishment that it was a shirt of some dead inmate, left to rot in the sun and cold.

Judging from the distance, he guessed it was just a little over ten feet in front of him; the mounds of snow almost buried the corpses making it hard to be seen. Alex began a snail like trek across the snow hard ground on his hands and knees, digging as he went along, making sure no SS soldiers were any the wiser about his intentions.

He reached the corpse, distinguished by the rotting smell aloft in the air still pungent in the stale, cold weather. Pieces of flesh were already missing from the body, giving a view of whatever was left inside. The mouth was blindly gaping, revealing a pair of brown teeth and almost no tongue left. Alex carefully peeled the shirt away from the corpse, careful of not touching it and held his breath the entire time. Once the shirt was off, he shoved it carefully under his own and began his crawl back to the group.

About fifty feet away, the curtains of the bolt and screw factory swept closed and the shadow that lurked behind drifted away with an evil laugh, echoing in the air.

V.

It was later that night, when people were minding their own business and eating their cold soup, did the uniform shirt make its appearance once again. It was shoved into Sebastian's lap with a confused look upon his face as he felt the fabric brush against his palms under the table. He looked quizzically at the boy that sat across from him, and the sparkle in the eyes he saw said to wait.

When everyone was getting ready for sleep, meaning they were filing back to their barracks, the two boys walked side by side and Alex said in a hushed voice:

"I found it this morning, wear it and you can disguise yourself as another person in the better section of camp."

Sebastian squinted even though there was no bright light, and thought about the statement. It was farfetched and there was no way this could be pulled off. His friend forgot to consider the faults in his plan. And so Sebastian pointed them out, careful to keep his voice down.

"But you see -" But before he could finish what he would say, before he could explain, in vain, the details of his friend's plan, a gruff voice interrupted somewhere from behind, and all around heard, instead, the following:

"Number A-13853 and A-13751 report to the factory now!"

It was starry that night, a rare starry night; a night where the smoke from the ever burning crematory did nothing from barring the stars from sight. The moon was full and shining brightly down upon the buildings and snow. It would have been a nice night for the people sleeping near the windows to admire the beauty in the sky and forget about pain and ugliness around them. But this night, for the two boys, was a life changing night, or rather better put: life ending.

Sebastian and Alex turned around and saw a figure retreating into the night towards the factory. They got a quick nod from their leaders and walked off following the shadow which belonged to a wretched soul. They followed into the factory, which at this time, was dark except for the grids of moonlight casting through the windows. The doors behind them slammed shut and when they turned around they were face to face with the leader of the bolts factory.

Alex cringed at the sight, and Sebastian stood in awe of fear.

"What do you want?" Alex said in defiance of the fear which he felt deep inside, masked only by his anger and hatred.

"What do I want?" said the factory leader. "What do I want...I want...Well what I want doesn't matter, does it? It's what you, my boy, have."

There was a pause, if not short in reality then long in the conscience of three people there. The thundering of the crematory echoed throughout the space and the breathing of Sebastian, Alex, and the factory leader would be heard in stark comparison.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Alex stated this, crossing his arms across his chest and all the while looking straight into the leader's eyes.

"Oh, but you do! You know very well what I'm talking about, my boy. Hand it over."

"Hand what over? I have nothing, nothing left to hand over, nothing left to give."

"I don't have time for you games. Hand over the shirt. Now!" The booming voice, saturated with anger and evil overshadowed the crematories like raindrops compared to thunder.

Both boys cringed in fear and slightly recoiled. Alex closed his eyes in defeat as he began to reach into his shirt. But before he could...

"Wait!" Alex paused, glancing at the factory leader. "Let me do the honors..." And there was nothing but pleasure and cruelty in those words.

Large calloused hands reached out towards Alex's shirt and slowly snaked under the tattered garment, running over the pale skin like sandpaper smoothing over porcelain. Breaths became haggard and quick in succession, soft skin slowly erupted in goose bumps and blood vessels emerged entailing the journey of the hand.

He could take no more, his body now heated with the blood which boiled with flames of anger. Alex grabbed the hands which encircled his body and twisted around the factory leader's back and pushed, with all his might, the man onto his knees. He was panting the excursion which was far too much work for his meager body after a long day of labor. The growling of the man on his knees reached both of the boy's ears.

Sebastian, who had been standing there and watching the whole scene unfold, was now trembling as he grasped blindly for Alex's hand. Heat met with heat and the two boys slowly began to back away from the mass of horror, hand in trembling hand.

But even if they had backed away till the ends of the earth, the wrath was still there, relentlessly there, forever, and forever to come. The world was cruel, they now both knew. Life was a journey in which we would have to embark on, whether alone or accompanied; whether willingly or relentlessly, the journey was there; the road ahead, waiting to be taken. And so the two boys both knew of their fate, the path of which life had given them, a path which was unfair and merciless to them both.

As if grasping onto each other more fiercely than before would help, the boys' hands grasped harder until both were white as snow. And as if closing their eyes would lessen the pain and make it seem less real would help, both boys shut their eyes tightly.

"Sebastian," whispered Alex, "I think I love you."

"What - why now?"

"I don't think I'll have another chance to tell you…" Their backs were now against the wall with nowhere else to go.

"D-do you really?"

"As long as the stars are above us," Alex said, as he looked out through the windows. The bright stars of the night peeked out from behind the tall smoke-stacks of the crematories, comforting the boy in their calm eminence. Alex turned his head and connected with Sebastian's sorrowful brown eyes. Together they both smiled at each other, as empty as those smiles may have been, and together they closed their eyes, knowing that the stars will never stop shining. Whether they be masked by sunlight or industry, the boys knew that the stars will always be there, forever shedding their light when darkness falls; both boys knew that even in death, a star's light will still live on, traveling on forever.

In a low, pitiful growl the wretched mass of the factory leader lunged at the boys.

VI.

The sun rose the next day as it always did, even if the night before had cast a shadow of perpetual darkness over two boys. It rose and shone brightly over the encampment; casting shadows in the crevices and nooks in and of the buildings. The lights swam and washed over all including the naked and bleeding bodies of the two boys. Even the pure light of the sun could not now warm the cold hearts of these boys. Nothing could anymore, everything was in vain.

Eyes slowly fluttered open, forcefully for they were crusted with blood. Fingers began to twitch and low guttural moans of pain escaped lips. Both boys awoke at the same time, and thus were taken away as so. Before they could process what had happened, hands, cold, cold hands grasped them and forced the two onto their weak legs. Clothes were thrown at them and orders to dress infiltrated their ears. They did as so, and were led outside.

Everything seemed completely and utterly beautiful to Alex as he walked with his hand held behind his back by a soldier. The snow glittering in the sunlight and the light wisps of smoke wafting in the sky seemed like a masterpiece of the finest art to his eyes. He did not know why, but something, deep inside, told him to appreciate what he saw, for he may never again have the pleasure of seeing it. It was a silent walk and Alex could somehow hear his heart beating, the rhythm reverberated through to his ears and the footsteps seemed to echo in his mind. They were passed his barrack. There was only but one place left to be led: the crematories.

Sebastian, trudging along slowly as well though the pain was more evident to his limbs. His hair fell in wisps in front of his face, he did not seem to perceive what was happening. He just walked as he was pushed to do so and concentrated on not fainting of pain. He fell into a reverie, where all things of this reality were dull and faint to him. But before long, everything stopped. He looked up as the smell of burnt flesh and hair attacked his nose. Sebastian looked ahead and there was Alex standing at the doors of the crematory. Suddenly everything was far too real.

"You will not die, do not worry. No, but you can watch. This is what happens when obedience is defied." Sebastian looked to his left and saw the evil smirking face of the factory leader.

The old doors, musty with melting water and peeling, chipping paint stood before him now - the entrance into a building, tall and ominous, beckoning for entrance. This is the last step, he told himself, and this is it. Alex closed his eyes, just for a minute and took a deep breath; reaching out, the cold angled metal was biting at his hands. His grip masked his bony hand white and he pulled, the wave the heat contained within the holocaust of flickering flames overpowered his senses.

"No!" Sebastian screamed, with all his might and love. "No!" He said it again, this time accompanied by the struggling of his limbs against the hands which held him back. He broke free and began to run towards Alex.

"Alex!" He screamed, "Alex! I love -" But before he could continue, a bullet pierced his heart and everything was silent and still in the wake of the booming of a rifle. Sebastian's eyes grew wide with surprise as the blood was gushing out of his chest.

"Sebastian -"

The last thing Sebastian ever saw, before the eternal darkness of a dreamless sleep enveloped his soul perpetually was Alex, pushed into the flames and all was fading. Before his eyes a multitude of shining stars evaporating away into darkness and all was dark and still, completely and utterly.

The End